Hunting Buffalo in Mozambique
by Jessica Brooks
Mozambique has always fascinated me. I remembered my father being invited to hunt elephant there shortly after the country’s civil war ended many years ago. Back then, no one really had much of an idea what kind of game was in the country because it had been closed to hunting for so long. Mozambique was intriguing, mysterious, and dangerous. Bands of rebels were still at large, and protection for hunters couldn’t be guaranteed. And let’s not forget about the land mines!
Hunting buffalo had been a dream of mine ever since I could remember listening to my father talk about his adventures. I was thrilled about booking with McDonald Pro Hunting. They’ve been in the business for many years. I knew of their fantastic reputation through past clients, many who are members of Safari Club International and also use Barnes Bullets, my family’s business. Because of these associations, I get to know who “the best of the best” are, so I was confident this would be a fantastic experience.
I learned almost immediately upon my arrival in Polokwane, South Africa, just how valuable Sandy’s team really is. His mother, Helen, is a wonderful hostess and a delightful person. The McDonalds operate a bed & breakfast on their farm, where I stayed the evening I arrived. The meals were exceptional and accommodations quite comfortable. The next day we headed to the airport to clear customs and fly to Quelimane, Mozambique.
Had it not been for Sandy’s wife, Tracey, I think I might still be stuck at customs in Polokwane. Is it just me, or is it possible that a customs agent might make up the rules as he goes along? I boarded the 6-seat Piper just after 2:00 pm. The pilot, Ray, was very skilled and I was thankful for the uneventful flight. There was a strong head wind or we would have arrived in time to go on to Mahimba, the hunting concession. Instead, I spent the night in Quelimane in a guest house which belonged to a local veterinarian. It was an older, but well kept, comfortable lath-and-plaster home. The homeowner was a friend of Sandy’s and served on the board of directors for “Madal,” a very large local coconut plantation. Mahimba is located on the plantation where Sandy leased the hunting rights.
We were met by one of the PH’s, Nathan, and Dominique, a South African who helped out in camp. Nathan took us out for some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and explained that the buffalo hunting was looking to be good. He also mentioned they had been seeing 11- and 12-foot crocodiles, which piqued my interest. He said their area was the best for Chobe bushbuck. At this point, the wheels in my head really began to spin. My thoughts had mainly been focused on buffalo, but Nathan was presenting me with so many other fantastic options. There are things that just can’t be communicated until a client actually arrives, and I was finding out now what I was truly about to encounter. Everything was new to me—it was as if there were electricity in the air. I was anxious to get my safari underway!
That evening I barely slept a wink. Buffalo hunting was to start the next day; however, Quelimane was alive all night. People yelling in Portuguese, dogs barking and howling, chickens clucking, loud partying. My 6:00 am wake-up call was the less-than-pleasant sound of an air raid siren. On the way to the airport, I soaked up some of the local sights and received a quick history lesson of the town that was part of what was formerly known as the Zambezia Province. I was grateful for the mini-tour. It was highly interesting and added greatly to my experience.
We arrived at the airport by 7:00. It was small, but clean, and I learned that many locals were employed to keep the grounds and airstrip cared for. An hour and a half later we departed for camp—a short 15-minute flight in the Piper. From the air, I could see that Quelimane was located next to the very large Concua River, which flows into the beautiful Indian Ocean lined with white, sandy beaches. Should I finish my safari early, I was told I could spend a day or so doing a bit of fishing or just relaxing on the beach.
We arrived in camp at 8:45 am, and I was introduced to my PH Leon and his wife Christelle. She would accompany us each day to film my hunt. I threw my gear in the A-frame hut, had a good breakfast, and assembled my rifle. I’d chosen to bring my .416 Remington Magnum, which my father had built on a Mauser 98 action several years ago. He has hunted dangerous game all over the world with it from the Arctic, to Alaska and Africa. I inherited this rifle in 2000 while preparing for an Alaskan Brown Bear hunt. Although it wasn’t my first bear hunt, I was ready to shoot a larger caliber. The rifle was offered to me, but the stock would need to be shortened substantially.
This was the point of no return for my father, as I am a “pint-sized” shooter. My husband jokingly refers to this rifle as “the Fisher Price model” with its 12-1/2-inch length of pull. Nonetheless, it has proven itself to be deadly. The load I’ve stuck with for years isn’t a barn-burner, but it’s accurate and it does the job. I loaded a 350-grain Barnes X-Bullet with 79.0 grains of RL15, which produces 2,525 fps. I didn’t feel the need to bring Solids because of the performance I knew this bullet would give me.
When I travel with my rifles, I remove the stock from the barreled action. After I reassembled the .416, we met at the airstrip to sight in. Before I left home, the rifle was shooting two inches high at 100 yards. Leon was satisfied when the bullet hit the target an inch high, dead center, at 40 yards. We were off in the Land Rover by 10:30 am, parked at noon, then set out walking to look for buffalo tracks.
We cut the tracks of a herd after a half hour of walking. The trail led us through a few swamps, including one that was waist deep (chest deep for me). At around 2:30 we came upon fresher tracks and followed them to a grove. The wind was blowing at our backs. Suddenly we heard crashing through the bush. Three bulls had caught our scent. One of the trackers went ahead to determine if we could catch them. It turned out we probably could, but not before dusk. Then there would be a long walk back to the truck. We decided against going after the bulls and headed back. On the way, we saw a very nice reedbuck male and pretty good waterbuck.
The trackers were burning grass behind us as we went. There was much dead undergrowth, which made walking difficult. Once when we stopped and waited for the trackers, I realized I was standing on a red ant hill. I began swatting them off, which made them very angry and they began biting! (Note to self: stay calm when red ants begin crawling all over your body. They sense panic. Yeah, right!) I unzipped my pant legs at the knees and was finally able to slap them all off. I was told their bites were harmless, but they were still painful.
We arrived at the truck around 4:00 and road-hunted back to camp. We came across more Reedbuck and half a dozen warthogs, but each time they were able to evade us. Pigs would be tough to hunt in the tall grass. The truck pulled into camp at 6:30, and we were served an excellent supper of Reedbuck neck stew over coconut rice. Surprisingly, there weren’t too many mosquitoes. A Reedbuck quietly watched our fire from the swamp 50 yards away. I was put to sleep at night by croaking bullfrogs. It was very peaceful and relaxing.
I was up the next day at 5:00 am, ate breakfast, and joined the others in the truck by 6:00. We parked just after 8:00 and set out to find the herd we’d seen the previous day. The wind was at our backs. To prevent our scent from blowing right into the animals, we backed up and moved wide around the herd until the wind was at our faces. We sneaked up to within 300 yards of the buffalo, which were in tall grass. We could see them from small hills and termite mounds.
The stalk began in the swamp at 10:20 am. I followed closely behind Leon, and we crept through the towering grass to a Lala Palm tree clump. The herd consisted of approximately 250 animals, with most of them roughly 150 yards away. Leon spotted some nice bulls. One real old bull had good bosses that were hard, and had heavily broomed-off tips. I would have fired, but he never presented himself well for a good shot.
We sneaked to the next palm clump, and spotted more good bulls about 100 yards away. One looked to be excellent, but one side of his horns had been broken off from fighting. As the herd moved, we had to belly crawl to several other palm clumps. Learning to stalk antelope on the Wyoming desert as a youngster with my parents was now paying off. We were spotted by a few curious cows, but they didn’t know what we were, so they half-cautiously rejoined the herd.
Crawling to within 50 yards of the herd, we noticed off to our right a nice bull with another young bull and some cows bedded in the shade. I could hear the herd grunting and swishing through the grass as they ate. It was awesome being this close! I decided to shoot this bull. Leon arranged the shooting sticks for me, and I set my rifle on them. Then we waited. When I got a good look at him, I saw nice bosses, just a little soft in front, but good curl. I glanced at my watch. It was noon. After three or four minutes, the bull stood up, stretched and turned broadside 60 yards away.
When I fired, he began bucking. Leon urgently said, “Reload! Reload!,” but I already had and was ready to take a second shot. No need, though—the bull had disappeared in the grass and went about 40 yards. We heard five long, deep bellows. When he made a final sick moan from deep in his gut, we knew he was finished. Meanwhile, the rest of the herd just stood there, staring. The animals milled around for a good five minutes, then bolted off.
As we walked towards the bull, my heart was pounding. We found him lying on his back, upside down. He had rolled into a shallow ditch. We struggled to turn him over and began taking photos. Tears were streaming down my face. I’d accomplished something I’d dreamed of doing for so many years. I was a little embarrassed by my reaction, but Leon seemed to understand how much this meant to me.
I was very pleased when we retrieved the bullet, which had delivered picture-perfect performance. The bullet had entered the right shoulder, and I found it just under the hide of the left shoulder. The ventricles of the heart were severed and the bullet had created a massive wound channel through the top of the heart and lungs. That night, everyone toasted the first woman to shoot a buffalo in the Mahimba camp, and the cook made a delicious oxtail soup for supper.
My safari didn’t end there. I hunted crocodile from a boat, which was more fun than I’d imagined. Hearing the barking sound of the Chobe bushbuck under the thick, jungle canopy was really incredible. I found it a most challenging hunt. Tree monkeys sounded their alarm almost every time we began a stalk. The end result was very rewarding – what a beautiful animal my bushbuck was! I shot my warthog 15 minutes before dusk on our way back to camp on the last day of the hunt.
McDonald Pro Hunting is a fantastic organization. Sandy and his staff are top-notch, knowledgeable, good people that provided me with a complete and quality safari. We have remained business associates and friends. After my experience with them, I am confident in recommending their service.
Public Relations Manager, Barnes Bullets
Daughter of Randy & Coni Brooks, owners of Barnes Bullets since 1974